I decided to play through the demo for the upcoming video game Prey, a re-imagining of the original Prey from 2006. Although I left ultimately satisfied, there were a few aspects of Prey’s demo that gave me pause. I saw enough to warrant adding the full game to my ever-growing list of titles that I am going to have to get around to playing eventually, but nothing in the demo convinced me that Prey was a worthy preorder, or even a Day 1 purchase.
A Stressfully Good Time
Before we dive headfirst into the things I did not like, let’s cover all of the things about the demo I thought really worked. I knew next to nothing about this game going into the demo, other than that it was being marketed as a Bioshock type game in space. If that is what Arkane Studios, the developer behind Prey, was going for, then they succeeded. The atmosphere felt like stepping back into Rapture for the first time. Every room looked like some great disaster had just occurred there, mere moments before I stepped through the doorway. Having a wrench be the starting weapon was also a clear nod back to the original Bioshock.
However, I would argue that Prey is a lot more of Dishonored than Bioshock. You can really tell that Arkane Studios is the puppet master behind this game. Movement alone is a little faster than most shooters, and players have access to actions like sliding and vaulting. Stealth also plays a large part in combat and the demo for Prey never let up when it came to informing me that there were multiple ways of solving puzzles or handling enemies.
For example, early on in the demo, I found myself barred by a locked door. A little snooping led me to an email on one of the office computers that pointed me to a keycard. However, in my second play-through of the demo, I used some vents to circumnavigate the door entirely.
Also like Dishonored, the environment can be interacted with in dozens of ways. Objects can be thrown to attract or distract enemies, turrets can be moved to create choke points, and grenades can be affixed to walls as traps. I even found a crossbow in my second play-through of the demo. A crossbow. Prey is definitely more Dishonored than Bioshock.
That being said, open combat in the demo definitely plays more like your standard first-person shooter. The combat was not challenging in the slightest, even on the harder difficulties. The only enemies you encounter in the demo are mimics, nasty little blobs of black goo that disguise themselves as items in the world. They are not incredibly powerful, but facing one can prove a nuisance if they get the drop on you. If you are facing more than four, you are in for a rough time.
That is, until you get the GLOO Cannon. The demo’s only unique firearm (I also found a shotgun, crossbow, and pistol on my second time through the demo), the GLOO Cannon stops enemies in their tracks. It literally glues them in place so you can beat them to death with the wrench.
I would normally credit this gun’s inclusion as a creative means of shaking up the tried and true first-person shooter formula. However, ammo is so plentiful for the GLOO Cannon that I never had to be good at firing it. I never had to adapt or strategically use the weapon, so I wasted its ammo all the time. I would just messily spray a room, walk in, and bash all the enemies to death without even having to take out any of my other weapons. For a game that seems to be priding itself on scaring and stressing out the player, it seems odd to include something that ensures players will never need a steady hand when it comes to targeting an opponent. Ammo for the other weapons and health pick-ups were perfectly placed though.
Scared of Preordering
Alright, let’s look at the reasons for why I will not recommend preordering Prey. I have several issues with the Prey demo, but to make things more concise I will focus on the three that annoyed me the most: music, enemies, and loading.
First off, the music. I do not know if the demo had a glitch or if Arkane Studios was just trolling, but there is some very loud, stress-inducing music that trumpets whenever the player is about to be attacked by something. It continues playing until the threat has been dealt with. I normally would not have a problem with it, as such a mechanic is a mainstay feature in most horror video games.
However, in the Prey demo, the music would sometimes not stop once all the enemies were killed. So there were many moments throughout the demo where I would spend anywhere between ten seconds to a full minute wandering around and nervously checking for the mimics I thought the game was trying to tell me I had missed. Eventually, I would realize that all the enemies in the area were already dead and the music would unexpectedly stop a few seconds after that.
If that is a glitch, I hope Arkane fixes it so I do not waste time when I am playing the full game. If that is Arkane trolling the player, then I salute their efforts as the experience left me thoroughly frustrated and not wanting to play anymore almost every time.
Too Much Mimicry
Mimics are the only enemy you encounter in the demo (or at least, that I could find). After playing through the demo twice, I am so sick of them. They were terrifying the first five times I faced them, but now they are more annoying than anything else. Like I said before, the GLOO Cannon makes them a walk in the park. Arkane better have some other creative enemy types, or else Prey is going to be a slog.
Lots of Loading
In Prey there is a lot of waiting. So. Much. Waiting. There are loading screens everywhere. I had to wait through four in the first ten minutes of the demo. Some are creative, taking the form of a helicopter ride or time spent in an elevator, but they happen back to back to back.
Normally, I would not rag on it. Mass Effect has those awful elevator rides and all of the Assassin’s Creed games have never been one to shy away from a good minute and a half of forcing the player to watch a white screen, and I enjoy both of those franchises.
Video games in the horror genre should not have loading screens every five to ten minutes though. Yes, I know Prey is an action adventure first-person shooter, and not a horror game. However, this game does take inspiration from games like Bioshock, ones that are full of stressful moments, and the demo was chalk-full of these same tense moments. They left me feeling vulnerable and scared of the shadows and sounds around me. Prey may not be a horror video game, but its demo definitely hinted that it would be heavily borrowing some of the genre’s tropes.
Yet, almost every one of those moments were immediately dashed when the game decided to shove me into a safe elevator or cut to a screen where I had to watch a blue bar slowly move from left to right. The loading screens gave me time to catch my breath and recuperate. Quiet moments are important in horror stories, but including them after almost every scary moment undermines the tension.
Arkane either needs to find a way to cut down on the load times, or move them to spots in the game where they will not immediately follow intense moments. Sadly, Arkane does not have enough time to do either of those things since the game comes out May 5. I predict a lot of people who buy this game Day 1 will find themselves frustrated with the amount of times Prey gets in its own way when it is trying to be scary.
I am going to buy and play Prey. No doubt about that. I enjoyed my time with the demo when the game was not loading and actually allowed me to play. The cryptic motives of the few characters I was able to meet (and the pressing questions I have about the plot) are too intriguing to completely pass up or just read about on some Wikipedia page a week from now.
However, Prey’s demo presents the game as a collection of repetitive combat scenarios that are neither hard enough nor unique enough to write home about. Considering half of those scenarios are rewarded with loading screens makes the game even harder to fully enjoy. Ultimately, I cannot (at this time) recommend preordering the game, when its demo presents itself so poorly. The game seems to reward a player’s time with excruciating moments of waiting as often as it offers actual pieces of the story. Hopefully, the full game is much better than the demo suggests, and lives up to the amazing experience that Ricardo Bare promised. Stay tuned for our full review of the game.